Trump’s pick for Health Secretary says people on Obamacare will be fine without it
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services insisted Wednesday that the millions of Americans who currently rely on Obamacare for their health insurance would be fine if the law gets repealed without a replacement.
“I think there has been a lot of talk about individuals losing health coverage, and that is not our goal nor our desire,” Georgia congressman Tom Price told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. It is “imperative” for those who have health coverage now to be able to keep it, Price added, but also for people to be able to choose their own health insurance on the individual market.
He did not provide details about how that arrangement would work.
On Tuesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report detailing how 18 million people could lose their health insurance within a year if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
Repeal and replace?
Price is well-known for his fierce opposition to Obama’s signature healthcare legislation, having repeatedly introduced his own legislation to replace Obamacare. His most recent proposition, updated in 2015, sought to replace Obamacare government subsidies with age-adjusted tax credits to help people purchase coverage on the individual market.
Sen. Al Franken slammed Price’s replacement bill during the hearing, calling the proposal to give tax credits to people based on age rather than income “an incredibly regressive system.”
Price’s plan would give the same tax benefits to all people, Franken said, whether they’re millionaires or living at the poverty line.
“I am very frightened about what you are going to do, and so are millions of Americans,” Franken said.
Throughout the hearing, Democratic senators on the committee hammered Price about his desire to repeal the ACA in the absence of a proposed program to replace it. Price denied that a repeal would cause millions to lose their health insurance.
“It is imperative that individuals who have health coverage be able to keep health coverage and hopefully move to greater choices and opportunities for them to gain the coverage they want for themselves and families,” Price said.
Price also voiced his support for slashing funding to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. These views are in apparent opposition to those of Trump, who repeatedly promised during his campaign that he would not cut those benefits.
Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed out this seeming contradiction and asked Price whether Trump plans to keep his promise.
“I have not had extensive discussions with him about the comments he made,” Price said. “But I have no reason to believe that he changed his position.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren picked up where Sanders left off, asking Price if he could guarantee that there would be no cuts to entitlement programs under the Trump administration.
Price began to say that funding shouldn’t be the metric by which to judge Social Security, and then Warren interrupted him.
“I am asking simple questions, and the millions of Americans will not be reassured by your notion that you have some metric other than the dollars that they need to provide these services,” Warren said. “You might want to print out President-elect Trump’s statement, ‘I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,’ and post that above your desk in your new office because Americans will be watching to see if you follow through on that promise.”
Questions over ethics
Price faced a barrage of questions about investments in healthcare companies he made while working on legislation that directly impacted those companies and in turn seemingly made them more valuable.
“Do you believe it is appropriate for a senior member of Congress, actively involved in policymaking in the health center, to repeatedly personally invest in a drug company that could benefit from those actions?” Sen. Patty Murray asked Price.
“That’s not what happened,” Price said, adding that he did not have access to any nonpublic information before making his investments.
Murray was not satisfied. “I believe it’s inappropriate. And we need answers to this.”
Sen. Chris Murphy said that Price made a series of stock buys in drug companies shortly before advocating legislation that appeared to cause those stock prices to rise, resulting in a “damning timeline.” But Price repeatedly said he didn’t know about the specifics of any of those stock trades and had no insider information when they were made.
As health secretary, Price would be in charge of a federal department that has a budget of about $80 billion and employs nearly 80,000 people. It encompasses the Food and Drug Administration, Medicare, Medicaid, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health, among others.